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If It's There, Why Can't We See it?

If It's There, Why Can't We See it?

A young Rebbe's insightful question

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"And G‑d appeared to him in the plains of Mamre"—Genesis 18:1.

It was the third day after Abraham entered into an everlasting covenant with G‑d. At the age of ninety-nine, at G‑d's behest, Abraham circumcised himself. Now, as he sat at his tent's entrance, G‑d appeared to him.

Yes, G‑d had appeared to Abraham in the past, but never had Abraham experienced a revelation of such a caliber. The level of G‑dliness he perceived on that day far surpassed all he'd seen in the past. And, as opposed to his previous experiences with divine revelations, when Abraham would be overwhelmed and fall to the ground, this time Abraham wasn't fazed by this awesome display. He calmly sat and soaked it all in.

Once he was circumcised, no longer did a divine revelation disturb his equanimityThis is precisely what brit milah (the covenant of circumcision) is all about—it is the one mitzvah that bridges the highest and lowest levels. On one hand it is the loftiest mitzvah in the Torah. As Maimonides says (Laws of Circumcision 3:9), "Three covenants were established regarding [the observance of] all the mitzvot of the Torah, whereas thirteen covenants were established regarding circumcision." On the other hand, it is the only mitzvah that actually permeates the physical body – more specifically, the very organ most associated with physical pleasure and selfish pursuit – and infuses it with tremendous holiness. And it is through this mitzvah that we have the ability to infuse, not only the body but the entirety of our mundane habitat, with G‑dliness and purpose.

This also explains why the Sages tell us that Abraham's descendants were awarded the Land of Israel as an eternal inheritance in the merit of circumcision. For the ability to infuse land – with all the physicality it symbolizes and represents – with holiness, derives from the mitzvah of circumcision.

Until Abraham circumcised himself he was not a "vessel" for G‑dly revelation. The physical and spiritual could not seamlessly fuse. But once he was circumcised, "G‑d appeared to him." No longer did a divine revelation disturb his equanimity.

Who Is "Him"?

Interestingly, the verse doesn't say that G‑d appeared to Abraham, rather, "G‑d appeared to 'him'..."

When reading the text of this verse, one must understand that as a descendant of Abraham, as one who was entered into the "Covenant of our Father Abraham,"1 he is an heir to all of Abraham's spiritual fortune and estate—including that G‑d reveals Himself to "him" at his circumcision just as He did to Abraham.

"Him" refers to me and you.

The difference? Abraham actually saw the revelation; most of us do not.

A Young Boy's Cry

"Why," he sobbed, "did G‑d reveal himself to our Father Abraham, and not to us?!"The 20th of Cheshvan, which always falls in proximity of the Torah reading of Vayeira, is the birthday of the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Shalom DovBer (1860-1920). When he was a young boy of four or five, he went in to his saintly grandfather, Rabbi Menachem Mendel, the third Lubavitcher Rebbe, on Shabbat Parshat Vayeira, in honor of his birthday. The lad broke out in tears. "Why," he sobbed, "did G‑d reveal himself to our Father Abraham, and not to us?!"

The Rebbe replied: "When a righteous Jew at the age of 99 decides to circumcise himself, he is worthy that G‑d should reveal Himself to him."

This story was later recounted by Rabbi Shalom DovBer, and publicized by his son Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe.

But why? Why repeat a potentially depressing story? Why tell us that G‑d only reveals Himself to "a righteous Jew who decides at the age of 99 to circumcise himself"? Come to think of it, why does the Torah tell us of an incident that seemingly has no relevance to the average Jew?

Wisdom Beyond His Years

Shalom DovBer understood well how great Abraham was relative to us. But, he argued, Abraham was our father; and as his heirs we inherit all the spiritual greatness he accrued—including the reward he received for courageously choosing to circumcise himself at an advanced age. So why can't we see G‑d as Abraham did?

Rabbi Menachem Mendel gently explained: Yes indeed, we are all graced with the very same sublime levels of G‑dliness that Abraham experienced and internalized on that fateful day. But to perceive this revelation we must ourselves be worthy. We can inherit a gift, but the refinement that is necessary to perceive it, that cannot come from another, that we must accomplish ourselves.

Yearning to See

The awareness that in fact every one of us has experienced, and experiences, this awesome revelation engenders an intense yearning to actually see it—and leads us to do all that is within our powers to be worthy of perceiving this revelation. Specifically through incorporating into our lives the primary lesson of circumcision:

Now we await the moment when we will actually see the revelation of MoshiachBringing harmony in our personal lives between the spiritual and the physical, permeating our entire being – and the world around us – with holiness, Torah and mitzvot.

And ultimately, we await the greatest revelation – one that will actually be seen by every living being – with the coming of Moshiach. And today, as we stand on the very threshold of redemption, and our work in exile has been completed, we can say the same idea regarding the redemption: The revelation of Moshiach already exists. Now we only await the moment when we will be able to actually see this revelation.

May this happen now, and together we will all bless G‑d for having "kept us alive, sustained us and allowing us reach this time"!

Based on the Rebbe's last public address for Vayeira, delivered on Parshat Vayeira 5752 (1991).

Footnotes
1.

All this applies to women too. As the Talmud says (Avodah Zara 27a), "Women are considered [born] circumcised." All the spiritual advantages gained by men through circumcision are inborn qualities of the female Jew.

Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory; adapted by Naftali Silberberg.
Artwork by Sarah Kranz.
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Ligia Maria Schwan Batista Sao Paulo, Brazil November 6, 2009

Avraham, why can't we see it? Reading this article I found out that G-d started Judaism exactly at the moment of the birth of Yitschac, when Abraham and Sarah became father and mother of their own son. That's why father and son were circumcised at the same time, and men who served Abraham gathered into. I think that's why Abraham was called "Father of Nations". Reply

Circumcision is the first commandment given by G-d to Abraham, the first Jew, and is central to Judaism.
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